Well played, Shane McMahon. Well played.
Just when we thought another edition of SmackDown Live was ending without much fodder for the morning water-cooler powwow, Commissioner Shane McMahon threw a last-minute surprise ahead of Clash of Champions.
Not only will Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn face Randy Orton and a partner of his choosing (a virtual lock to be Shinsuke Nakamura, after his appearance at the end of the show Tuesday), but if the heels go down, they're gone. Gone as in not just jettisoned from the SmackDown roster, but out of the WWE. Oh, and if they are to succeed, they'll have to do it with McMahon as the self-anointed special guest referee.
And with that announcement, the final pay-per-view event of the year finally has a little juice, whereas the rest of the card feels like little more than filler until the holidays pass and we can start talking Royal Rumble. Imagine Owens and Zayn, who have spent most of their time as the featured acts since joining forces at Hell in a Cell, looking for new work.
Certainly, the odds are stacked against them now, but it seemingly can't be as simple as McMahon getting an outright win. McMahon claims he doesn't have a vendetta -- he said so much in the show's opening segment -- against the two guys who conspired to cheat him from victory at Hell in a Cell and who have subsequently made life miserable for the commish, but his actions certainly suggest otherwise.
On Tuesday, McMahon announced Zayn would face Orton in the main event with the stipulation that Owens would be handcuffed to the bottom rope. It was punishment to both of them after Zayn pummeled Orton, the 13-time world champ, with a steel chair. The match began at a fast pace, highlighted by Orton tossing Zayn into and over the announcers table multiple times. At one point, Zayn landed on a TV monitor, resulting in a painful looking red mark down his back (and a broken monitor).
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) December 6, 2017
But as the battle wore on, Zayn miraculously discovered a pair of bolt cutters under the ring, which ended up in Owens' hands. And wouldn't you know it, KO cut himself loose and interfered in the match just in the nick of time.
Orton countered, though, and stifled the double team just long enough to roll Zayn up for the pinfall victory. Owens and Zayn quickly regained the upper hand, only for Nakamura to make his way down to the ring to assist Orton to destroy the bad guys and conveniently offer Orton a tag team partner in waiting for Clash of Champions.
No doubt that this offers a solid addition to the card, but throw in the employment stipulation, and voila ... we truly have ourselves a compelling reason to tune into the show on Dec. 17.
The scenario makes it hard to imagine Zayn and Owens escaping the show with a win and their jobs intact on their own, but together, they've formed a unique partnership and outsmarted McMahon nearly every step of the way. After McMahon made his announcement at the end of the show, the camera lingered on a seemingly beleaguered GM in Daniel Bryan -- will that bubbling issue turn into something bigger? Will it be a ref bump that incapacitates McMahon? Or will Owens and Zayn become the new versions of Heath Slater for the next couple of months?
Something tells me they're saving their latest and greatest plot for the final major event of 2017, something that will likely electrify SmackDown heading into the new year.
"NO ONE is safe when a RIOTT is about to BREAK OUT!" #SDLive #RiottSquad @YaOnlyLivvOnce @RubyRiotWWE @sarahloganwwe @NatByNature @MsCharlotteWWE @LanaWWE @CarmellaWWE @TaminaSnuka pic.twitter.com/Ptvjxtvels
- WWE (@WWE) December 6, 2017
Hits and misses
Between the Riott Squad, the former Welcoming Committee and the babyfaces, no one is quite sure what direction everything is headed in. On Tuesday, after Charlotte Flair took care of business against Tamina, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan emerged ringside to stare down their competition. Here's hoping they can take the women's roster to a new level with a sense of direction -- and perhaps it could start as part of what's become a lumberjack women's championship match at Clash of Champions.
The good news for the women's division on SmackDown is that they suddenly have a lot of depth with the addition of the Riott Squad. If there is a downside, there are just a lot of moving parts without so much a semblance of a streamlined narrative, at least to this point. While Raw has seen a very strategic plot executed by Absolution, there hasn't been that kind of cohesiveness yet on Tuesday nights.
Wait, are Rusev and Aiden English legit? It appears so after they upset The New Day. As Corey Graves said, this could be "the genesis to one of the great tag teams." For their win, Rusev and English will join the New Day, Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable and The Usos in a Fatal 4-way for the tag-team titles at Clash of Champions. Seems like an awful lot of moving parts, but given the overall pool of athletes, this match could steal the show, especially if New Day and The Usos have anything to do with it.
While one tag team is on the up and up, Mojo Rawley officially stated he is a superstar who needs no partner. After turning on Zack Ryder a week ago, Mojo lamented his time with Ryder did nothing for his career. He has a point. Rawley did win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal by himself -- well, with a little assistance from Rob Gronkowski. But unlike Mojo, at least Gronk has cleaned up his act ... or not.
What was the point of The Bludgeon Brothers taking on local San Diego enhancement talent. Their names were Adam and Josh, and their physiques made James Ellsworth look like Hulk Hogan. C'mon, give Luke Harper and Erick Rowan a team like Breezango or even The Colons and at least tease us with an air of competitiveness. Despite the lack of a challenge and some cheesy elements to their gear and entrance, the Bludgeon Brothers do look like legit team. Perhaps a Fatal 5-way at Clash of Champions? Too soon?
How is Dolph Ziggler's addition into the Baron Corbin-Bobby Roode match at Clash of Champions any more appealing than the latter two going head-to-head like they did Tuesday night? Ziggler, who predictably interfered in the match, has become more of a parody than anything. Perhaps the idea is for Roode to take the United States title without pinning Corbin. Nonetheless, this encounter just lost some serious appeal.
No AJ Styles or Jinder Mahal on the show, less than two weeks ahead of their championship battle? OK then. There was a taped preview segment, but their absence encapsulated the general lack of excitement -- especially with Styles just coming off a potential match-of-the-year candidate at Survivor Series against Brock Lesnar. That's an impossible act to follow.